Rediscovering the Symbols of Easter
Phil Vischer recently appeared on Family Life Today to discuss the symbols of Easter and how Christians can use them to teach the gospel. Read more thoughts on how eggs and bunnies can point us toward Jesus rather than splitting Easter into what seems like two very different holidays.
Christian parents know that Easter can mean fun for their families - with egg hunts at church and baskets full of sweet treats for their little ones. But they also may worry about the conversations those traditions provoke. Reconciling the true meaning of Easter with the secular, marketing-driven holiday the world celebrates can be tricky for adults, and even more difficult to explain to kids!
Even though the historical celebration of Easter was a really big deal in the early Church, today Easter is often celebrated in a single week, with waving palm fronds one Sunday and singing "He Is Risen" the next. Meanwhile, the secular marking of "Easter" is even shorter -- a one-day affair -- seen as just another reason to put marshmallow and sugar together and sell it to the masses.
But Easter - the celebration of Christ's resurrection - is the turning point for all of history, and the most meaningful event for our faith. After all, if Christ did not rise, then we're just going though the motions for something that's meaningless (1 Corinthians 15:17). It is important that our kids understand the true significance of Easter for their own lives and faith, and we can use traditions like bunnies and eggs to help communicate that meaning.
Somehow, our Easter has actually become two separate Easters. We go to church and hear about Jesus and the empty tomb, then we come home and turn on the TV and find Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail. It's "here are your eggs, here's your candy and here's your 'butter lamb'!" It leaves kids wondering, "What are we really celebrating?"
We need to think through our traditions because kids deserve to understand what we're celebrating and why.
Maybe you thought you were already doing that. Many Christian parents have been careful to avoid any secular connotation, so we keep the eggs and bunnies far away from the crosses and palm branches, afraid that one will contaminate the other. In the process, we toss aside tools that could help bring Easter alive for our kids.
Bunnies and eggs don't have to take away from the true meaning of Easter, and we can even use them as tools to explain it!
Some of the symbols of Easter have become so associated with the secular side of the holiday that we no longer see how they can help us communicate the gospel message. Maybe it's because we've lost sight of the big picture. We've made Easter all about the forgiveness of sin and eliminating judgment, but Jesus also said, "I've come to bring life and to bring it to you abundantly." (John 10:10)
Eggs represent new life and so do baby bunnies. After the long, cold winter, the world explodes with new life in spring. These symbols have historically been signs pointing to Jesus. The church used eggs way back in the Middle Ages when they would paint them blood red as a symbol of Jesus, so they could tell Christ's story. Up until the last 400 years, teaching the Bible often meant teaching illiterate people. Teachers had to use symbols instead of written words. Even the stained glass windows in churches were used to tell a story of redemption.
We're so literate now - with our blogs and our books and our overabundance of words - that we've lost touch with the power of symbols to communicate. We don't remember a time when a red egg was all someone needed to tell the story of Jesus. Well, it's time to change that because these symbols provide a great opportunity for us to be intentional about teaching Easter to kids.
Easter is full of symbols, but when we don't immediately see the connection back to Jesus we get uncomfortable and want to throw them away. Instead, let's talk about bunnies and eggs and the new life they represent. Then when we talk about Jesus' promise -- "I've come to give you new life and give it abundantly" -- our kids will truly understand what that means and begin to live it out, this Easter and for every Easter to come.
What Is Easter? is a new book by Phil Vischer that helps explain how the symbols we see at Easter time point back to Jesus and the new life we have in him.